In 2017, staff from Growing Up Healthy and the City of Faribault took a relationship-building approach to supporting mobile home residents: they collaborated to help residents make necessary repairs to improve the safety of their homes.
Through a pilot program—a partnership between Growing Up Healthy, the City of Faribault and Xcel Energy’s Home Energy Squad—energy efficiency experts from the Center for Energy and Environment visited the homes to conduct free Home Energy Audits. They replaced inefficient light bulbs, examined furnaces, installed programmable thermostats, and recommended other improvements. Growing Up Healthy staff came along on the visits to provide translation and inform residents about additional programs they might be eligible for, like early childhood education opportunities.
The program expanded in 2019 to include Northfield. In both communities, it’s been successful in part because Growing Up Healthy has worked over the years to build trust among residents in the low-income neighborhoods it serves.
“This is a unique partnership with Growing Up Healthy. It’s something we would love to find in other communities, but it often doesn’t exist or it’s hard to tap into,” said Stacy Boots Camp, assistant outreach manager with the Center for Energy and Environment, which is based in the Twin Cities. “This relationship has been talked about throughout the country—it’s really a model.”
Natalia Marchan, Growing Up Healthy Coordinator in Faribault, said during those early visits, staff became aware of how problems with a home’s infrastructure affected other parts of a family’s life; for example, some people struggled to keep old furnaces working during cold winter months. Because the family didn’t have adequate heat, kids were getting sick and missing school. “We started connecting those dots,” she said.
Another common problem discovered during the visits involved freezing pipes: some people were trying to defrost their pipes by placing heaters under their trailers, creating a fire risk, as noted in a December 2018 Faribault Daily News article. To solve this problem, the City of Faribault’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) created a heat tape program and contracted with a company to install heat tape around the pipes, at no cost to the residents. The Faribault fire department also became a partner in the effort, installing smoke detectors for residents who needed them, and educating children about fire safety.
“It was a good opportunity for community members to feel different about the city. I started to hear comments like, ‘Now they care, they care about us and they’re giving resources to our community,’” Marchan said.
In April 2019, Beth Kallestad became aware of the program’s success in Faribault when she began working as project manager for the City of Northfield’s climate action plan. The city was already participating in Xcel’s Partners in Energy program, and Kallestad reached out to Growing Up Healthy to see how Northfield could operate a similar Home Energy Visit program for low-income residents living in the Viking Terrace and Florella’s mobile home parks.
“We want this to be clean energy for all,” Kallestad said. “It shouldn’t just be for people who can easily afford to do energy upgrades. We want it to be for the whole community.”
The city set a goal of completing 50 home energy squad visits, and Growing Up Healthy staff helped schedule the visits, provided interpretation for residents, if needed, and offered information about other community-based resources.
“Because of the connections it allows you to make with the community members, you get to know them on a whole new level, in an atmosphere they’re comfortable with, and it gives them the comfort to bring up other issues they may have,” said Jennyffer Barrientos, the Growing Up Healthy Coordinator in Northfield.
As in Faribault, the home energy visits in Northfield revealed a common problem of frozen pipes. Barrientos was able to connect Viking Terrace residents with a group of handy volunteers from nearby Emmaus Church who wanted to get to know their neighbors better. Residents and volunteers went through a training in December offered by Slipstream, an energy efficiency nonprofit, so they could help teach other residents to do tasks like install heat tape, seal windows, and repair bathroom leaks.
In return, the volunteers and residents had a chance to get to know one another. Barrientos said, “It worked out pretty well, and we were on a roll….and then COVID happened.”
Between October 2019 and February 2020—before the pandemic hit Minnesota—34 home energy squad visits were completed in Northfield-area mobile homes, and 20 were completed in Faribault-area mobile homes. Those visits ground to a halt in March. But in May, the Home Energy Squad adapted the program to offer virtual visits, and it’s resumed some limited in-person visits.
“We’d like to keep going until every house is done,” Kallestad said. “That’s the first step—knowing what needs to be fixed. Then, actually fixing it, that’s the next step. We’re trying to figure out how we can best support that effort.”
To sign up for a Home Energy Squad visit, or to learn more about it, contact:
Natalia Marchan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 507-405-5658 (Faribault)
Jennyffer Barrientos, email@example.com, 651-243-1331 (Northfield)